Aging in America is a thankless task. You get wiser and funnier and unburdened about calling out falsely chipper health-care attendants when they rear their smiling heads. At the same time, you are neglected, put to the curb too soon. You can share your wisdom, but only the rats’ll hear you.
A rich topic, and yet “Old People,” the episode of Master of None dedicated to tackling it, isn’t my favorite. You could see the twists coming, from Arnold’s grandpa’s sudden death to Rachel’s grandma’s disappearance. The one promising intrusion, a bit of Black Mirror–esque technosurrealism in the form of an animatronic seal companion for the elderly, could easily have turned deeper and weirder.
That’s not to say the episode was strictly subpar — which anyway wouldn’t mean much, considering the height of the show’s bar. Props to the casting team for hiring an actual octogenarian for the critical role of Carol, grandmother to Rachel. At 82 years old, actress Lynn Cohen is a wonder to behold, especially while on the lam in the last scene. With the kind of confidence that evades 20-year-olds, she takes the stage at her favorite jazz club to sing some tunes as her clock outside ticks down. It’s a lovely and strange combination of inspiring and tragic. May we all be living sirens at that age. May we not have a sad nursing-home prison awaiting us after our show on the rocks plays out.
Dev is, as always, a likable hero whose instinct for good can be overtaken by his love of pasta. Carol diagnoses this soft-hearted, soft-bellied youngster as her way out of the home she clearly shouldn’t have to suffer. In the course of their bonding — run along similar lines as in the “Parents” episode, through the sharing of anecdotes — we learn that Rachel was in a ska band. Nostraskamus, of course. This, coupled with Rachel’s latent Japanophilia, feels like screen history. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for sure, but in line with the show’s realism, she feels like someone you know: a dream girl with feet on the ground.
Illustration by Mallika Rao.